My kids begged to sleep together in my boys' bedroom last night. It's a rarely granted request in our house to have four kiddos in one room, mostly because they take forEVER to settle down and actually get to sleep. It's summer, however, and I'm a big believer that these are the things -- along with blanket forts, catching fireflies, and family movie nights -- that kids tend to remember fondly once they grow up. So I acquiesced and allowed them to drag sleeping bags, blankets, and pillows around the house to set up shop for the night.
As often happens, they goofed around for nearly an hour. At one point, my oldest daughter got up and put on her brother's glasses, dancing around the room in a creative soft-shoe routine. This, of course, led to a flurry of tattling and to me having a private-but-stern talk with my daughter about Going. To. SLEEP.
Thirty minutes later all but my oldest daughter were back in my room showing me a note she'd written (as she wasn't supposed to 'talk') to her siblings. I took the note, glanced over it quickly, then shooed them back to bed. After having a chance to read the entire text, however, I went up and pulled my daughter out of the bedroom for a talk.
The note was explaining that I'd told her to stay in bed which was correct. But the ending of her note was shocking. "Because I'm a stupid psyco," it read. "I am DUMB."
I questioned her as soon as we got to my room. "Did you write this?" I asked. "Why would you write something like this? These are terrible things to write!"
She just shrugged her shoulders, acutely focused on her fingernails. Emotion churned in my stomach -- confusion over what she was thinking, despair that she would ever say anything like this about herself, shock at where in the world she'd have picked something like this language up. Mostly my heart just went out to my girl.
"Honey," I said. "Why in the world would you write this about yourself?"
Her bottom lip quivered and tears filled her eyes. She admitted that some girls at school had said those things to her and since they were the 'girls everyone liked,' she figured they were true. This was bad enough, but then I realized school was dismissed a month ago. So for at least a month, my eight-year-old daughter has been saying these things to herself. I wanted to vomit.
I gave her a big hug and we curled up into my bed to talk about things.
"First of all, you're not a stupid psycho and you're not dumb. You have never been either of those things. You're clever, funny, athletic, beautiful, and silly. You're strong and quick. And you're a million other amazing things that we don't have time to name tonight. That's the first thing.
"Secondly, it's never okay to say things like this to or about someone. Those girls are wrong, they are mean, and that's never okay. That's bullying, honey, and I wish you would have told me sooner so we could have addressed this with your teacher and their teachers.
"Third and most important, it's never okay to say these things to yourself."
Her little blue eyes met mine, tears spilling down her cheeks, nose red. I wanted to hug her. To fill her with so much love that there wasn't any room left for self-hate. Tears filled my own eyes, but I continued.
"That's bullying too, honey. It's bullying yourself. And that's never okay, either.
"It's so incredibly important to be kind to yourself. There are always going to be mean people in the world, there will always be people who try to make themselves feel better by putting others down. You have to forget those people. You have to know, in your head and your heart, that you are awesome. You have to be kind and generous -- with others and especially with yourself."
By this time we were both crying because, the fact of the matter is, we all bully ourselves from time to time. Some of us do it daily. For some reason, it's acceptable for us to talk down to ourselves. This self-hate comes in lots of forms:
"I hate my tummy / my thighs are disgusting / I wish my boobs were bigger."
"I really blew this project; maybe this job isn't for me."
"He didn't call, he obviously finds me repulsive."
"I really hate that I'm not as creative as those other moms."
"My kid got a 'C' - I can't believe I missed that he was struggling."
Negative self-talk is so destructive because, not only are you validating those (sometimes enormously overblown) opinions but you're perpetuating their power over you. It's so important to be aware of your thought processes; they indefinitely shape who you are as a person. We must be careful to monitor the self-hate so we don't unintentionally start believing it, like my sweet eight-year-old girl. Like me.
I gave my girl a big hug, then, and we spent a few minutes giggling about silly things that happened in each of our days. When she was feeling better, and I was feeling reinforced, I sent her back to bed with the reminder that I love her more than the moon and the stars in the sky. Before falling into sleep I told myself the same thing.
My girls, doing their own thing.
Kasey Ferris is a freelance writer and mother-of-five. She eats too many Oreos and thinks life is much better when you're laughing. Find her at facebook.com/KaseyFerrisWrites.